Madison's ESPN radio changes stations

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Posted by on December 04, 2008 at 20:12:21:

Madison's ESPN radio changes stations to 100.5 FM
Adam Mertz 12/04/2008 5:56 pm

In a move that reshapes the sports radio landscape in Madison, ESPN will change stations as of New Year's Day.

ESPN will move to the FM dial and be carried on WTLX/100.5. WTSO-AM, which had carried the network giant's signal for its first nine and a half years in the market, will adopt a new identity as a locally driven station branded The Big 1070.

Along with adding the ESPN label, WTLX will boast a stronger signal in Madison in 2009, as it will emanate from a new tower within the city limits as opposed to its previous origin in Columbus.

The station's wattage won't change but station management expects the tower switch to address one of the chief complaints about WTLX since its birth: spotty reception in Madison and the surrounding areas, especially on the west side.

The change was announced today at 5:45 p.m. on Steve "The Homer" True's afternoon drive-time sports talk show on 100.5.

"As a locally owned company in Wisconsin for more than a decade, we are looking forward to presenting ESPN Radio's programming and an upgraded signal as a New Year's present for Madison sports fans," said Good Karma Broadcasting owner Craig Karmazin, who owns several stations in Wisconsin, including the Milwaukee affiliates for both ESPN and ESPN Deportes, its Spanish-language counterpart.

What was the impetus for the change? WTSO station manager Tim Scott said Thursday that during contract negotiations with ESPN this summer, it became clear that the station's goals no longer matched those of its longtime partner.

Scott declined to discuss specifics, but sources say that ESPN pushed for a home in the market for ESPN Deportes and also requested a greater share of commercial air time.

"I have the utmost respect for ESPN and you're not going to hear me say anything bad about them," Scott said moments before making his station's announcement shortly after 4 p.m. on WTSO's afternoon drive-time show with Mike Heller and Owen Murphy. "Having that ESPN brand has been a big part of what got us to where we are today. I'm a big fan of their programming, and I know many of our listeners are as well, and they'll still have that available in the market.

"But we made the decision that we needed to go into a different direction. And I can't underscore enough that we made the decision."

WTSO is locked into long-term coverage deals for University of Wisconsin sports, and will continue to serve as the broadcast partner for the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks, Scott said. The station will retain staples such as the "Heller and Murphy Show" and "On Wisconsin" with Brian Posick. He said the station's strong commitment to prep sports will continue as well.

"Madison is ready for a major-market type station with a strong local emphasis, and that's what we're going to become," Scott said.

WTSO will gradually roll out its new programming lineup starting Monday, Scott said. A likely addition is the popular "Jim Rome Show," which had been carried for the past few years by WTLX but originated in the Madison market on WTSO before it was bumped when ESPN beefed up its daytime lineup.

Scott hinted that at least one of the programming moves would make big waves.

"I've got an announcement where you're going to say, 'How did they make that happen?'" Scott said.

Despite his enthusiasm over the new direction being taken by The Big 1070, Scott acknowledges that there is some risk associated with breaking away from ESPN, both because of its strong programming and its omnipresence in the minds of sports fans that can aid credibility, or at least visibility.

As such, the twin announcement of the ESPN affiliation and improved signal strength is considered quite a coup for WTLX, which has developed a loyal fan base over the last decade thanks to grass-roots efforts by Karmazin and an ever-growing cast of employees but has never been competitive with the WTSO-WIBA tandem in the Arbitron ratings.

WTLX will continue to feature local shows such as the daily "The World's Greatest Sports Talk Show" with True (3-6 p.m.) and "The Badger Hour" with Lance Davis (6- 7 p.m.) as well as weekly offerings such as the football-oriented "In The Trenches" and preps-focused "High School Hysteria" on Fridays, general manager Ken Rovak said.

The ESPN contract provides play-by-play coverage of Major League Baseball and the World Series, NBA and its Finals, and college football's Bowl Championship Series. WTLX will also broadcast the Super Bowl and NCAA men's basketball tournament.

The daily talk show lineup will feature ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" with co-hosts Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg (5-9 a.m.), "The Herd" with Colin Cowherd (9 a.m. to noon), "Mike Tirico & Scott Van Pelt" (noon to 2 p.m.) and "The Scott Van Pelt Show" (2-3 p.m.).

Van Pelt's show has not been aired of late in Madison.

"You folks know how much I dig Madison, and I'm glad you all will be able to check out my show in the greatest college sports town America," Van Pelt said in a statement issued by WTLX. "See you on State Street, and tell (Madison resident and ESPN announcer) Andy North I said hello -- he won't return my calls."

Notably, Karmazin removed himself from the station's daily lineup; his "Steve and Craig Show" with co-host Steve Politziner, a staple on WTLX since its inception, will be available only via podcast on the station's new Web site ( starting Jan. 1.

(The Capital Times)

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